Last week, the split within the Democratic Party was put on display during the debate in Brooklyn between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Given his well-known critical views, Sanders’ full-throated attack against Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as his re-floating of the smear that Israeli Defense Forces’ efforts to suppress missile fire and terror tunnels from Hamas terrorists in Gaza were “disproportionate,” to say nothing of his statement blaming the continuation of the conflict on Israel rather than, as Clinton pointed, squarely on the Palestinians where it belongs, was hardly surprising. But his willingness to go on the offensive against the pro-Israel community in this way just days before the New York primary illustrated his belief that the liberal base of the party — and a vocal left-wing minority of Jews — agree with him. The problem with his stands though — and that of many in his party as well as the Obama administration — is that they are not so much at variance with Clinton’s beliefs as they are with the reality of the Middle East, as a series of recent events, including today’s Jerusalem bus bombing, illustrate.
Sanders’s stand may not win him as many votes as he thinks since even most liberal New York Jewish voters aren’t that comfortable with his willingness to embrace the “disproportionate” canard even if they also don’t like Netanyahu. But it was widely applauded by veteran Israel-bashers like the New York Times’ Roger Cohen (who also has doubled at times as an apologist for Iran) as well as the left-wing J Street lobby. Though at times it has maintained the pretense that its goal is to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community, the group has a fraction of that mainstream group’s support and influence. Yet it is being propped up by the administration, which is sending both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to a J Street event tonight as a signal of its desire to encourage those Jews who are critical of Netanyahu.
But as weak as the arguments in favor of Sanders’ stands were, the bombing in Jerusalem and the discovery of a new terror tunnel were more reminders of how out of touch with reality, the Vermont senator, the administration and their left-wing cheering sections are.
The bombing, which injured 21 people, represented a marked escalation in the conflict just at a time when many in Israel thought a decline in attacks showed that the “stabbing intifada” might be coming to an end. The bombing was applauded by Hamas, which spoke of it as appropriate retaliation for supposed “desecration” of the mosques on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a lie that has been consistently sounded by the Palestinian Authority, too, as it has both applauded and encouraged terror attacks during the past several months. While there is no telling whether this is an isolated incident or the start of a new terror offensive that will return to more bloody tactics used during the second intifada that took thousands of lives in the last decade, it is nevertheless a troubling development.
The attack also happened on the same day that the IDF announced that it had discovered a tunnel that extended from Gaza into Israel for the first time since the 2014 war that served as fodder for Sanders’ criticism of the Jewish state. Though it has been well known that Hamas is pouring all the resources at its command into the effort to rebuild the terror infrastructure that was destroyed by Israel’s supposedly disproportionate attacks, including building more tunnels, this is the first time one of these new structures had actually been uncovered. The discovery also showed the extent of the threat. The tunnel was built over 100 feet below the ground, with reinforced concrete (allowed into Gaza in order to rebuild homes destroyed in the last war it set off) and wired for electricity. With a newly enriched Iran (as a result of the Obama administration’s nuclear pact with Tehran) continuing to support Hamas, this won’t be the last such discovery. That Hamas and Hezbollah have been re-armed with more rockets aimed at Israel than in past conflict is another sign of the increased threat.
But the broader point here is that the pursuit of violence against Israel is not being caused by Israelis building a few more homes in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in settlements that even the Obama administration concedes would be included in Israel in the event that a peace agreement were ever to be concluded. No “new settlements” are being built in the West Bank that are, according to J Street and others, making peace impossible.
To the contrary, although Sanders speaks about Israel denying the Palestinians “dignity” being the ongoing cause of the conflict, the fact remains that even the so-called moderates running the PA are as adamantly opposed to peace talks as the radicals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. All of them, including PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. That was illustrated by the PA’s turning down of peace offers from Israel that would have granted them a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem.
The disconnect here is not so much between Netanyahu and Obama, Sanders and J Street as it is between these Democrats and the realities of Palestinian politics. The one thing missing from the complaints of Israel’s critics about Netanyahu is any acknowledgment that it is the Palestinians that not only refuse to make peace. More than that, they continue to ignore PA and Hamas incitement to hatred against Jews and Israel that is rooted in traditional anti-Semitic themes rather than a desire to improve upon the already generous offers the Jewish state has made for peace. The stabbing intifada demonstrated that Palestinian public opinion continues to not only see Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the country as unacceptable but to consider bloody attacks on individual Jews, whether in the settlements, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, as praiseworthy.
To the contrary, rather than encouraging peace, stands such as those of Sanders, and the European countries that he cites as backing up his slurs about the Gaza war, are instead giving the Palestinians the impression that they should redouble their terror efforts rather than make peace.
As unrealistic as Sanders’ economic positions may be, his opinions about the Middle East that are being applauded on the left as a refreshing dissent from the bipartisan support for Israel that exists in this country, are based on even greater fantasies. It would be helpful for the cause of peace if Sanders’ certain defeat in the Democratic race were interpreted as a sign that his party was rejecting his desire to create even more daylight between Washington and Jerusalem than has been the case since Obama became president. But there is no denying that the leftward tilt of the party is a sign that support for Israel is no longer a matter of consensus among Democrats. That’s something that ought to worry not only friends of Israel but also anyone who hopes that the Palestinians will someday give up their futile opposition to the existence of a Jewish state.